Latest: Pressure on North's health service 'may force move by Westminster', says Brokenshire

Update - 6.09pm: Financial pressure on Northern Ireland's health service could force the UK Government to step in if political powersharing cannot be resurrected soon, James Brokenshire has warned.

All party leaders agreed on the need for devolution during talks with the Secretary of State on Monday and Sinn Féin claimed a deal could be done in days with the right attitude.

DUP chief Arlene Foster said talks could not be prolonged.

Mr Brokenshire warned he could be forced to pass a budget at Westminster as public services suffer.

He said: "I cannot ignore the growing concern in the wider community here about the impact that the current political impasse is having on the local economy and on the delivery of key public services."

It has been seven months since Stormont ministers took decisions and political negotiations were paused over the summer.

Health trusts in the North recently unveiled £70m of cost-saving proposals.

Mr Brokenshire said: "The window of opportunity to restore devolution and to form an executive is closing rapidly as we move further into the autumn.

"With pressures on public services already evident, most particularly in the health service, the need for intervention is becoming increasingly clear.

"The UK Government has a duty to the people of Northern Ireland to provide political stability and certainty.

"If this political impasse continues I will be forced to legislate in Westminster for a budget for Northern Ireland and consider next steps.

"I don't want to have to take this action."

Update - 3.12pm: Negotiations around restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland should be short and focused, Sinn Féin said.

Party leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill claimed a deal could be done in days with the right attitude and reiterated calls for progress on a range of cultural issues.

DUP chief Arlene Foster has said the discussions should be over pretty quickly.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is meeting the five main parties at Stormont on Monday as he assesses the chances of a breakthrough.

Mrs O'Neill said: "There is a short window in front of us where we need to find solutions and a way forward.

"We need a short, sharp and focused negotiation in the small time frame we have ahead of us."

Earlier: Discussions on the prospect of restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland should be over pretty quickly, Arlene Foster has said.

The DUP leader said Sinn Féin had reacted "with breakneck speed" to reject her suggestion that a ministerial executive at Stormont be restored alongside a parallel process dealing with cultural issues such as the Irish language.

She warned that Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire needed to make a decision by next month on the prospect for fresh talks or direct rule from London with financial pressures looming.

He is meeting the five main parties at Stormont today as he assesses the chances of a breakthrough.

Mrs Foster said: "Sinn Féin are the barrier and will continue to be the barrier."

She added: "I am not going to be prescriptive but we do not believe that there can be a prolonged set of talks.

"We think we should be able to come to a determination pretty quickly whether Sinn Féin want to go back into government.

"Certainly for our part we do.

"We have no red lines - we have no barriers."

Powersharing has been in deep freeze since early this year when the late Sinn Féin deputy first minister Mr McGuinness resigned in protest at the DUP's handling of a botched green energy scheme which risks landing the taxpayer in millions of pounds of debt.

Talks have been led by the British and Irish governments but with no breakthrough some prominent DUP MPs are warning a return to direct rule from Westminster could be looming.

Sinn Féin's leader in the North, Michelle O'Neill, said there should be a short and focused negotiation where the outstanding issues can be resolved within days if people had the right attitude.

She warned there were small windows over the next two months to make progress.

Mrs Foster said by October the Northern Ireland Secretary would have to pass a law authorising the expenditure of public money, adding: "If there is no devolution by that stage and no signal of devolution I think that he would have to take action in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland."

Mr Brokenshire holds discussions with the Ulster and the Democratic Unionists, SDLP, cross-community Alliance Party and Sinn Féin on Monday on whether to initiate another round of talks.

It has been seven months since devolved ministers last took decisions.

Negotiations were paused over the summer.

Outstanding issues in dispute between the parties include legal protection for the Irish language and dealing with violence from Northern Ireland's past.

Mrs Foster has called for a "common sense" solution appointing Stormont ministers alongside a time-limited process for making progress on the red line issue of an Irish language act and Ulster Scots.

Her republican counterpart said: "What she did was go away and call for something which she knew would be rejected."

She said it had been turned down in March.

"It was put out knowing what the outcome would be and what the response would be."


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